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  1. 1. MysticismAuthor(s): Michel de Certeau and Marsanne BrammerSource: Diacritics, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Summer, 1992), pp. 11-25Published by: The Johns Hopkins University PressStable URL: 19/03/2010 12:43Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTORs Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTORs Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact The Johns Hopkins University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Diacritics.
  2. 2. MYSTICISM MICHELDE CERTEAU ?sp?: *?: ?: :" ? .r::" : an -p??*: I :: ?" -? 8ri- .Ig i:* :ur ;:*I:::: ? ap: -? " :? ai -*r:?::-- ":::::: :? :I -?- ::": :a -": ?? sa- : ::: ::-: ih 6?*L:: i16* :IX1*. ::-:: il*: :rg :??n x?::1"; ii ru ic xa,.,,, * ::,:: ::: ,: o: : ar: -Q,- "?,,, 2-; c: A ?a; ::,: :::.::,: R ::4~~~~~~~~~~~~~4 VJSd ~~?:: b~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Translatorsnote. Michelde Certeauwas an eminenthistorianat thetimethatthis article was publishedin the Encyclopaediauniversalis(1968) [rpt. 15 (1990): 1030-36 (Paris)]. Wellknown in Francefor his earlierstudiesof mysticism-inparticular hisworkon Favre,his editionofSurins Guide spirituel(1963), and his monumentalCorrespondance Surin (1966)-de Certeau also of pursuedstudiesinpsychoanalysis,culturalanthropology, semiotics,linguistics,and contemporary culture. In "Mysticism"de Certeau examinesthe developmentof relations between a scientific discoursethatreifiedthe mysticalas an objectof inquiryin accordancewith its own categories and methodologies,and a mystical "language"thatbothintegratedand interrogatedthatdiscourseon the basis of a lived experience exceeding its capacities. De Certeau continues his analysis of mysticismin La fable mystique(1982), translatedbyMichaelSmithas The MysticFable,where he examines "therelations of this modernmysticismwith a new eroticism,with a psychoanalytic theory,withhistoriography to itself,andfinallywiththe fable(thatreturnssimultaneously orality and tofiction)" [12]. Themasculinegenderingof the word mystic (le mystique)and its accompanying pronouns in this article is primarilydue to French usage. Theword mystiquewithoutany articlefunctions in Frenchas the adjectivemystical;withafemininearticle(la mystique) wordmeans "mysticism," the and with a masculine article (le mystique)it means "the mystic," irrespective of that mystics gender. I am verygratefulto Luce Giardfor her generousand invaluableassistance in the translation of this essay; in addition,I wouldlike to thankAgnesChouchanand MichaelSmithfortheircareful editing of the text. diacritics / summoer1L992 diacritics 22.2: 11-25 11
  3. 3. To Freuds analysis of religion in The Future of an Illusion (1926), Romain Rollandopposed a "religioussensationcompletely differentfrom religions in the strictsense": a"sensationof the eternal," "oceanicfeeling"thatcould be describedas a"contact"and anas a"fact" [letterto S. Freud,5 Dec. 1927]. Rolland sent Freudthe threevolumes of hisEssai sur la mystique et laction de lInde vivante upon publication in 1929; Freudrespondedto his objectionsin the firstchapterof Civilizationand Its Discontents (1929).He moreover wrote to his "friend,""How foreign to me are the worlds in which youcirculate! Mysticism is as impenetrableto me as music" [20 July 1929]. Later,Freudwould object to the assimilation of his method with that of Jungs, who, he said, "issomething of a mystic himself and has ceased for a many years to belong to our group"[letterto R. Rolland, 19 Jan. 1930]. A significant debate. It was recordedover a period of thirtyyears in a particularlyrich groupof publicationsdedicatedto mysticism; these publicationsinclude contribu-tions from ethnosociology (in France,for example, fromEmile DurkheimsLesformesdldmentaires la vie religieuse [1912] to Lucien L6vy-BruhlsLexperiencemystique deet les symboles chez les primitifs[ 1938]); fromphenomenology(fromHeiler to RudolphOtto and Mircea Eliade); from literaryhistory (The Mystical Element of Religion byFriedrichvon Hugel [1908] to the eleven volumes of Histoire littfraire du sentimentreligieux by Henri Bremond [1917-32]); from philosophy (notably William James in1906, MauriceBlondel, JeanBaruziin 1924, HenriBergson in 1932); fromthe diffusionof Hinduismand IndianBuddhismin WesternEurope,to which RomainRolland,ReneGuenon,and Aldous Huxley contributed, additionto L. de La Vallee-Poussin,Olivier inLacombe, Louis Renou, and others. This abundant outputhas includedpositions thatarequite different, but it seems to have in common the connection of mysticism to theprimitive mentality, to a marginal and threatenedtraditionexisting within Christianchurches, to an intuitionthat had become foreign to the intellectual understanding, orbetterstill, to an Orientwhere the sun of "meaning"would rise at the momentthatit setin the West. Fromthe beginning,the mysticismdiscussedin these workshadfor its placean elsewhereandforits sign ananti-societywhichneverthelesswouldrepresentthe initialground [fonds] of man. A way of considering and defining mysticism that we stillrecognize today dates from this period; it is in this climate that Freuds reaction wassituated. The disagreementthatappearedin the lettersand worksof these two correspondentsbetween 1927 and 1930 is characteristic the perspectivesthatopposed-and continue ofto oppose-a "mystical"point of view to a "scientific"one. RomainRolland describes,in the mannerof Bergson, a donn6eof experience-"-something withoutlimits, infinite,in a word, oceanic"; Freud finds only a production of the psyche born from thecombination of a representationand an affective element, itself susceptible to beinginterpreted a "geneticderivation."Rollandrefersto a "subterranean as sourceof religiousenergy," distinguishing it from its appropriation channeling by the Church;Freud orreturnsto the "constitutionof the self according to a process of separationfrom themothers womb and differentiationfrom the outer world. Of course, both returnto anorigin; for the former, this appears in the form of the All and has its most explicitmanifestationin the Orient;for the latter,it is the primitive experience of a wrenchingaway [arrachement], beginningof individualorcollective history.Insum, forRomain theRolland the origin is the unity thatjust "breaksthrough"["affleure"]to the surface ofconsciousness; for Freudit is the division constitutiveof the self. Nevertheless, the factwhich both must explain is of the same type: a dissent of the individualin relationto thegroup; an irreducibilityof desire within the society that represses or masks it withouteliminating it; a "discontentwithin civilization." The unstablerelationshipsbetweenscience and truthrevolve aroundthis fact.12
  4. 4. 1The ModernStatus of MysticismWhatever one thinks of mysticism, even if one recognizes in it the emergence of auniversal or absolute reality, it can only be treatedin terms of a specific cultural andhistorical situation. The West, whether it is considering shamanism, Hinduism, orMeisterEckhart,has its own way of regardingmysticism;it speaksaboutit froma certainposition. One would not thereforeknow how to sanction the fiction of a universaldiscourse about mysticism, therebyforgetting that the East Indian, the African, or theIndonesianhave neitherthe same conception of nor the same practicesfor what we callmysticism.Geographical Determinationand Historical ConditioningThe attentiondirected by Europeananalyses towardthe mysticism of others is guidedmore or less explicitly by internalinterrogations disputes,even when these analyses andconsider foreign traditions. For example, the scientific inquiry into Hinduism or ofBuddhismwas (and still is) inhabitedby the "uneasiness"that the irruption differentcivilizations and the erosion of Christianbeliefs arousedin Europe,by the nostalgia forspiritualreferencesdetachedfromChurchallegiances, or by the opposite desire to betteradaptthe diffusion of EuropeanChristianthoughtto the Orientand to restorea universalthat would no longer derive from the power of the Occidentals, but ratherfrom theirknowledge. The relationshipsthatthe Europeanworldmaintainedwith itself and othershad thereforea determiningrole in the definition, the experience, and the analysis ofmysticism. This statementdoes not by any means deny mystical experience its authen-ticity or these analyses theirrigor;it only emphasizes theirparticularity. This localizationof "our"point of view also obeys historicaldeterminations.In thecourse of our history, "one"place has been given to mysticism; it has been assigned,within social or scientific life, a region of its own, with its own objects, itineraries,andlanguage. In particular, from the time thatEuropeanculturehad ceased to define itselfas Christian-that is, since the sixteenth or seventeenthcentury-one no longer desig-nated as mystical that form of "wisdom"elevated by a full recognition of the mysteryalreadylived and announcedin common beliefs, but ratheran experimentalknowledgethatslowly detacheditself fromtraditional theology or churchinstitutions,characterizedby the consciousness,received or acquired,of a fulfilling passivity in which the self losesitself in God. In otherwords, whatbecomes mystical is thatwhich diverges from normalor ordinarypaths;thatwhich is no longer inscribedwithin the social communityof faithor religious references,but ratheron the marginsof an increasinglysecularizedsocietyand a knowledge that defines its own scientific objects; that which thus appearssimultaneouslyin the form of extraordinary, even strange,events and as a relationshipwith a hiddenGod ("mystical" Greekmeans"hidden") in whose public signs pale, flicker,or completely cease to be believable. One indicationof this isolation (in the sense in which any element can be isolated)appearsin the fact thatit is only in the seventeenthcenturythatone begins to speakof "lamystique"; the recourse to this noun corresponds to the establishmentof a specificdomain. Previously "mystique"was only an adjective that qualified something else; itcould be assigned to all types of knowledge or objects in a still religious world. Thesubstantivation thisadjectivein thefirsthalfof the seventeenthcentury,a time in which ofmystical literature proliferated, a sign of the greatdivision [d6coupage] thatoccurred wasdiacritics / summer 1992 13
  5. 5. concerning knowledge and facts. A certainspace would delimit, from this point on, amode of experience, a genre of discourse,an areaof knowledge. At the same time thatits propernameappeared(designatingat thattimea novelty), mysticismconstituteditselfin a place apart. It circumscribedisolatable facts ("extraordinary" phenomena),socialtypes (the "mystics,"anotherneologism of the time), anda special science (elaborated bythe mystics themselves or takingthem as its object of analysis). Whatwas new was notmysticallife-since thisundoubtedly beeninitiatedin the hadvery beginnings of religious history-but its isolation and objectificationin the eyes ofthose who began to be unableto participate believe in the principlesuponwhich it was orestablished. In becoming a specialty, mysticism founditself limited to the marginsof the sectorof the observable. It would be subjected to the paradox growing from an oppositionbetween particular phenomena(classed as exceptional) and the universalmeaning-orone true God-of which mystics claimed to be the witnesses. Mysticism wouldprogressivelybe divided between strangephenomena-the objects of a curiosity some-times devout, sometimespsychological, psychiatric,or ethnographic-and the Absolutethe mystics spoke of, which would be situatedin the invisible, regardedas an obscure,universaldimensionof man,perceivedorexperiencedas a reality[unrdel]hiddenbeneatha diversityof institutions,religions,anddoctrines.Itis in thissecondaspectthatone drawscloser to what Romain Rollandcalled the "oceanic feeling." The position given to mysticism by Western societies over three centuries woulddetermine,then,the theoreticalandpracticalproblemsposed to mysticalexperience. Butit would also determinethe optic by which mysticism (whatevertime or civilization itbelongedto) wouldbe viewed fromthenon: anorganization properto "modern" Westernsociety defines the place from which we speak of mysticism.The Traditionand Psychologizationof MysticismThis determinationhas led to two sorts of effects, equally perceptiblein the experienceof mystics as they describe it and in the studies dedicatedto them: the formationof a ofparticulartraditionand the "psychologization" mystical states. From the place thathad been made for them, the mystics, theirapologists, and theircritics establisheda traditionthatrespondedto this recentlyisolated unity in conformitywith what had occurredin otherfields of research. For example, once biology had beendefined in the seventeenthandeighteenthcenturies,it servedas a basis for a classificationof past knowledge, selecting from it problemsthat were analogical to those it was thentreating.A distinctionwas madein ancientworks(through split thatwould have greatly asurprised theirauthors)betweenwhatwas"scientific"andcouldthusenterinto thehistoryof biology, and what was theological, cosmological, and so on. A moder science thusgave itself a specific tradition,excavated, in accordance with its present, from thesedimentsof the past. Similarly,the newly "isolated"mysticism found itself, from theseventeenth century on, endowed with a complete genealogy. The identification ofsimilarities presentedin the works of ancient authorsauthorizedon the one hand thegatheringof diverse works underthe same name and, on the other,the fragmentation ofthe same literarycorpus accordingto the moder categories of exegesis, theology, andmysticism. It became possible to distinguish in the works of a patristic writer, in amedievalgroup,or withinaNordic school of thoughtaportionthatbelonged to mysticismand a level of analysis that corresponded to it. From then on, constellations ofreferences-the "mystical authors"-defined an object that conformed to a certainviewpoint. A "treasure"was formed in three centuries that constituted a "mysticaltradition"and obeyed less and less the criteriaof any particularChurchmembership.14
  6. 6. Catholic,Protestant, Hindu,ancient,andfinally nonreligioustestimonieswere assembledunderthe same singularnoun: la mystique. The identityof "mysticism,"once posited,createdrelevantcriteria,imposeda reclassificationof history,andpermitted establish- thement of facts and texts thatserved from thenon as a foundationfor any study of mystics.Reflection and experienceitself arebothdeterminedtoday by this workof collating sucha diversity of informationand referencesinto one circumscribed place itself defined bya socioculturalconjuncture. This conjuncturealso prompted,as we have seen, the identificationof mystical lifewith a certain numberof "phenomena." Extraordinary events characterizedmysticalexperience from the moment it was compelled, in an increasingly de-Christianizedsociety, to migrateinward. Necessarily estrangedfrom more secularizedglobal institu-tions and rapidly shrinkingChurch institutions,the lived sense of the Absolute-theuniversal God-found its privileged indices, internal or external, in phenomena ofconsciousness. Lived experience became the sign and punctuationof the perceptionofthe infinite. Experience was expressed and deciphered in more psychological terms.Moreover,because religious terminologycould no longer be trusted(religious vocabu-lary continuedto circulate,but was progressivelydetachedfrom its first signification bya society thatwould from then on assign metaphoricaluses to it, using it as a repertoireof images and legends), the mystics were drawnaway, by the life they lived and by thesituation that was given to them, towarda language of the body. In a new interplaybetween what they recognized internally and the part of their experience that wasexternally(socially) recognizable,mystics were led to createfromthis corporealvocabu-lary the initial markersindicating the place in which they found themselves and theilluminationthey received. Justas Jacobs woundin the hip was the sole visible markofhis nocturnalencounterwith the angel, so ecstasy, levitation,stigmata,fasting, insensi-bility to pain, visions, tactile sensations, odors, and the like furnishedthe music of thesenses with the scale of a specific language."Unutterable"Meaning and Psychosomatic "Phenomena"The mystics created,from all these psychological or physical "phenomena," means of aarticulatingthe "unsayable" [indicible]. They spoke of "something" could really no thatlonger be said in words. They thereforeproceededto a descriptionthatran the gamutof"sensations,"allowing us to measurethe distance between the common usage of thesewords and the truththat the mystics, led by their experience, gave to them. This lapse[decalage] in meaning, inexpressiblein verballanguage,could be made visible throughthe continuous counterpointof extraordinary psychosomatic phenomena. The "emo-tions"of affectivity and the alterationsof the body thusbecame the clearestindicatorsofthe movement producedbefore or after the stability of intellectual formulations. Thethreadof psychosomaticsigns was from then on the borderlinethatmade it possible formystical experience to be articulatedin socially recognizableterms, to be made legibleto the eyes of unbelievers. From this viewpoint, mysticism found its moder sociallanguage in the body (though,in many respects,an establishedspiritualvocabularyhadonce been its medieval "body"). These psychosomatic manifestationswere taken seriously by scientific observers.To an inquirythatwas successively medical,psychological, psychiatric,sociological, orethnographic, they provided that part of the experience that science could grasp-mystical"phenomena."In particular, workof Dr. J. M. Charcot(1825-93) was a fine theexample of the attentiondirectedby the psychiatristin the nineteenthcenturytowardsagroup of cases and events in which a hystericalstructurewas diagnosed. Bound to itscorporeal language, mysticism borderson or overlaps the pathological-all the morediacritics / summer 1992 15
  7. 7. since the "extraordinary" of character mysticalperceptionwas increasinglyexpressedin ofthe nineteenthcenturyby the "abnormality" psychosomaticphenomena. In this way,mysticism enteredthe psychiatrichospitaland the ethnographic museumof the marvel-ous. If, by its own logic, scientific analysiswas thereforecaughtin the trapof a positivismthat in advance gives truthvalue to "objective"facts it defines itself, it was no lessdeterminedby the actualsocioculturalconditionsof the mysticalexperience. Did not thebelievers come to confuse mysticism with the miraculousor extraordinary?In the end,medicalorethnologicalobservationwent less astray(since it claimedto stay on the terrainof phenomena)thanthe eminenttheologianof the period,FatherAugustePoulain, who,in orderto accountfor the meaningof mysticism,ceaselessly enumerated collection of astigmata, stories of levitations,psychological "miracles,"and somatic curiosities [Desgraces doraison: Traitd de thdologie mystique (1901)]; here the lived meaning ofexperience was assessed according to the degree of psychosomatic awareness of the Inextraordinary. theend, suchmeaningwas buriedundertheproliferation peculiarities ofthatboth Churchapologists and scientific observerscolluded in amassing. The reactionprovokedby such an extremeposition hascontinuedto reiterate,withinthe last fifty years, the rupturebetween mystical "phenomena"and the existentialradicalism of the experience itself. It is to the latter that the great philosophical andreligious studies have been devoted, such as those of JeanBaruzi[SaintJean de la Croixet le problemede experiencemystique(1924)], Bergson [Lesdeuxsources de la moraleet de la religion (1932)], and Louis Massignon[Lapassion dal Halldj, martyrmystiquede lislam (1922)]. These have had theirequivalentin the Christiancorpusin the worksof FatherMauricede La Taille (1919), FatherMarechal(1924 and 1937), andDom Stoltz(1937), who, among others,gave back to mysticism its structure doctrinalmeaning. andBut this "reinvention"of mysticism probably confined itself too exclusively to thephilosophical or theological analysis of textual sources, too quickly abandoning thesymbolic language of the body to psychology or ethnology. 2The Mystical ExperienceParadoxesThe mystical, then, appearsin paradoxicalforms. It seems to driftfrom one extreme tothe other. In one of its aspects, it is on the side of the abnormal,a rhetoricof the strange;in the other,it is on the side of an "essential"thatits whole discourseannounceswithoutbeing able to express. The literature placed underthe sign of mysticism is very prolific,often even confused andverbose. But it is so in orderto speakof whatcan be neithersaidnor known. Another paradox: even though mystical phenomena had the character of theexceptional, even of the abnormal,those presentingthese extraordinary events experi-enced them as the local and transitorytraces of a universal reality, as expressionsoverflowing with the excess of a presence thatcould never be possessed. Finally, these often spectacularmanifestationsalways returnedto what remainedmystical,thatis to say hidden. Thus, two contraries coincide in the expression"mysticalphenomena":what is "phenomenal" appearsand is visible; what is "mystical"remainssecret and invisible. Mysticism cannot be reduced to either of the aspects that always comprise thisparadox.It is held withintheirrelation.It is undoubtedly relationitself. It is therefore this16
  8. 8. an objectthatescapes [quifuit]. It alternatelyfascinatesandirritates.Withthese mysticalevents the proximity of the essential seems to be announced. But if, in dealing with alanguageof the "unsayable," criticalanalysis rejectsthis languageas lacking in rigor,asa commentarytoo encumberedwith images and impressions,it will encounternothingmore in the field of observationthanpsychological curiositiesor small marginalgroups.In order to avoid this choice between an "essential" that ends by vanishing beyondlanguageinto the "unsaid," strangephenomenathatcannotbe isolated withoutbeing andrendered insignificant, we must return to what the mystic says of his or her ownexperience, to the individualperceptionof observablefacts.The EventPsychosomatic events which are classified as mystical pose a particularproblem.Extraordinary phenomenaseem at firstto specify mysticism. They contraststronglywithordinarylife. They standout in the observablelike the signs of a foreign language. Butthisirruption strangesymptomsonly signalsmomentsorthresholdsthatarein factquite ofspecific. Mystical life is comprisedof experiences that initiate or transformit. These"moments"are like throwingopen a window into ones dwelling; they give a new senseof ease, allow a breathof fresh air to enterones life. The song of a bird thatreveals tothe shamanhis vocation, the spokenwordthatpierces the heart,the vision thatturnsoneslife upsidedown-these are decisive experiences,indissociablefrom a place, a meeting,a reading,butnotreducibleto the meansthatconvey them. "Ithappenedthere"the mysticcan say, because he keeps, engravedin his memory, the smallest circumstancesof thatinstant;the precisionof the memoriesin any "life"or "autobiography" demonstrates this.But, he adds, "It was not that,"because for him the experiencehas to do with somethingother thana site, an impression,or a certainknowledge. These privileged events can be found outside mystical life. Julien Green, forexample, writes in his Journal of a moment akin to the "oceanic feeling" of RomainRolland: Dec. 18,1932. Afew momentsago, I paused beneathone of theporticoes of the Trocadero to view the prospect of the Champ-de-Mars. It was as if it were springtime, a luminous mist floating above the gardens. Sounds had that buoyant,airy qualitythattheyonly have on thefirstfine days of spring. For two or three seconds, I relived a whole part of my youth-my sixteenth, my seventeenthyear. This made a strange impressionon me, more painful than agreeable. Nevertheless, there existed an accord between myself and this landscape so profound that I asked myself,as I used to do in earlier days, if it would not be delicious to dissolve into all of this, like a drop of water into the ocean-to not have a body any longer, butjust enoughof a consciousness to be able to think: "Iam a tinypart of the universe. The universeis happyin me. I am the sky, the sun, the trees, the Seine, and the houses on its banks . .." This strange thoughthas never completelyleft me. Afterall, it is perhaps something of this kindthatawaits us on the otherside of death. And,suddenly,I wasfilled withsuch happinessthatI returnedhomewith thefeeling thatI shouldpreserve the memoryof this great mirage, as I would a rare and precious thing.The surpriseproducesstrangenessbut it also liberates. It drawsto the surfacea secret oflife and death. Something is introduced into the consciousness that is not itselfconsciousness but the annihilation consciousness, or the spiritof which consciousness ofseems to be the surface,or an unfathomablelaw of the universe. The unsuspected,thatdiacritics / summer 1992 17
  9. 9. hasthe violence of theunforeseen,gatherstogetherall thedays of existence, as the whistleof the shepherdgathershis flock, and reunites them in the continuity of a disquietingrelationshipwith the other. The mystical experience often has the same form as this, although ordinarilyitengages in anotherkindof relationship with thatwhich suddenlycomes to it. In theWest,it is the discovery of an Otheras essential or inevitablethatdefines this relationship. IntheEast,it is morea rendingof thefragileveil of anungrounded consciousness[in-fond6e]underthe pressureof a realitythatengulfs it. Undoubtedly,it is impossible to name whathappens;it seems to rise up from some unfathomable dimensionof existence, as fromanocean whose originsprecedemankind.The very term"God"(or"Absolute"), ratherthanproviding a guidepost for the experience, receives its meaning from this dimension.Languagewill be transformed it. Alreadylife is changedby it: "Whenthe divine touch byflows in you, it turnsyour habits upside down," said Ibn Ata Allah of Alexandria,aMoslem mystic of the twelfth century,and he cited a saying from the Koran: "If kingsenter a village, they will damage it" [xxvii, 34]. Under the shock of an analogousexperience,Jean-JosephSurin wrote in 1636: His workis to destroy,to ravage, to abolish and then to remake,to reestablish, to resurrect. He is marvelouslyterribleand marvelouslysweet; and the more terrible he is, the more desirable and alluring. In his actions, he is like a king who, marchingat the head of his armies, brings everyoneto their knees.... If he takeseverything away, it is in orderto expandwithoutlimits. If he separates, it is in order to uniteto himselfthatwhich he separates outfrom all the rest. He is miserly and liberal, generous and jealous of his interests. He demands everythingand he gives everything. Nothing can satiate him and nevertheless he contents himselfwith little since he has need of nothing.A descriptionof the experienceratherthanof God, this text tells of a manifestationthatdoes notreceive its verificationorrationalefromtheoutsideworld. The onlyjustificationfor the truththatcomes to light is a "recognition" is yet nothingmore thana markof thatthat truth. It springs,in a way, from the very adhesionthatit bringsabout. "How trueitis!";the mystic has nothingelse to say underthe blow thatbothwoundsand delightshim.There the unbelievableand the obvious coincide. It is a transformation a revelation. and It is impossibleto identifythe event with a particular instantin time because of whatit awakensin the memoryandbecause of all the life experience [le vtcu] thatemerges inthatparticular moment. By the same token,it is also impossibleto reduceit to the productof a long preparation, since it happensunexpectedly,as a "gift,"and is unforeseeable. No one can say, "Itis my truth" "Itis me." The event imposes itself. In a very real orsense, it alienates. It pertainsto the sameorderas ecstasy: thatis, to thatwhich transportsone outside oneself. It expels one from the self insteadof gatheringone to it. But it hasthe characteristicof opening up a space that the mystic can no longer live without.Indissociablefrom the assent thatis its criterion,such a "birth" draws from man a truththat is his withoutcoming from him or belonging to him. Thus, he is "outsidehimselfat the very moment thata Self is asserted. A necessity is arousedin him, but underthesign of a melody, a spoken word, or a vision coming from elsewhere.The Discourse of Time: An ItineraryThe paradox of the mystical "moment"refers to a history. What is asserted there issomethingthathas alreadybeen saidelsewhereandwill be saidotherwise,somethingthatin itself rejectsthe privilegingof a presentand refers to otherindicators-those past and18
  10. 10. those to come. The perceived Trace-connected to encounters, to experiences[apprentissages],to readings-extends the fissureof an Absence or a Presence through-out thewhole networkof familiarsigns thatbitby bit areseen to havebeen misunderstood.The event cannotbe reducedto its initial form. It calls for a beyond [unau-deld] to whatwas only a first unveiling. It opens up an itinerary. The mysticalexperiencewill unfoldin discourseandmysticalprocess withoutbeingable to stop at this first momentor to contentitself with merely repeatingit. A mysticallife is begun when it recoversits roots and experiencesits strangenessin ordinarylife-when it continues to discover in other ways what has occurredthat first time. This movementbeyond [Iau-deld]the event is history-history alreadymadeor yetto be made. The movement beyond personal intuition is the social plurality. Themovementbeyond the surprisethathas touchedthe depthsof the emotions is a discursiveunfolding, a reorganizationof the known througha confrontationwith other kinds ofknowledge or modes of knowing. The experiencethatcould streakacross the conscious-ness like a flash of lightning in the night is diffused throughthese differentaspects intoa multiplicity of relationshipsbetween consciousness and spirit, in all the registers oflanguage,action, memory,andcreativity. Such is at least the case for manymystics. Forothers, in a more Eastern tradition,it is silence that progressively extends its effects,attractingto itself, one by one, the activities of being. At any rate,the very thing thatthemystics recognized could not be circumscribedin the particularforms of a privilegedinstant. God, whose absentproximitythey perceived in the form of a space thatopenedout into such a precise place in theirlives, cannotbe limited to thatplace. He cannot beidentifiedor confined to the site thathe has neverthelesstouched. One cannotarresthimthere. This internalexigency andtheobjectivesituationof theexperiencealreadyallow oneto distinguisha spiritualsense of the experiencefrom its pathologicalforms. A processis "spiritual"when it is not confined to a single moment, no matter how intense orexceptionalthatmomentmay be, when it does not dedicateeverythingto its revival as ifit were a paradise to recover or preserve, when it does not lose its way in imaginaryfixations. It is realistic, engaged, as the Sufis say, in the ihlds-on the track of anauthenticitythat begins with the relationshipwith oneself and others. It is thereforediscriminating. It relativizes the ecstasy or the stigmataas a sign that would become amirageif one wereto stop there.The mysticdoes notidentifytheessentialwith the"facts"thatinitiatedor tracedthe progressof a fundamental perception. The essential is not theecstasy, or the stigmata,or anythingexceptional-not even the affirmationof a Law ora One. Al-Halladj describedthis in a letter to one of his disciples; in it he called intoquestion all the certaintiesupon which the communityof believers (the Moslem umma)had been founded: My son, may God hidefrom you the apparentmeaningof the Law and reveal to you the truthof impiety! Because the apparentmeaning of the Law is hidden impietyand the truthof impietyis manifestknowledge. Now therefore: praise to God, who manifestsHimselfuponthepoint of a needle to whomsoeverHe will and whohidesHimselfin theheavensand on theearthfromwhomsoeverHe will, with the result thatone attests that "Heis not" and the otheratteststhat "There is only Him." Neither is he whoprofesses the negation of God rejected, nor is he who confesses his existence praised. The intent of this letter is that you explain nothingby God, thatyou extractnot a single argumentation from him, that you desire neither to love him nor to not love him, that you do not confess his existenceand thatyou are notinclined to denyit. Andabove all, refrainfrom proclaiming his Unity!diacritics / summer 1992 19
  11. 11. The greatestof Moslem mystics do not trustin any appearance; even the most sacredlaw,the most fundamentalaffirmationof the believer still belongs to the orderof "appear-ances" in comparisonwith a Reality thatis never given "as such" [commeca], directly,or caught in the net of an institution,a body of knowledge, or an experience. In seventeenth-century FranceConstantinde Barbanson, along with scores of othersmorefamous,no longerrelativizedthe Law, which is for Islamthe rule of faith,butratherthe "ecstasy"and the "ravishment," traditional the beginnings and marksof mysticism: It is an actual touchof thedivineoperationin thesuperiorpart of themindwhich so suddenlyseizes the creaturethat, by drawingones attentionawayfrom the inferiorparts, the creatureis completelyabsorbedin the attentionone gives to an operation within the mind so powerful that the exteriorsenses ... are left completelysuspended,emptiedandpreventedfromoperating.... Whatis only an exterior effect, all too visible in the eyes of men that admireonly extraordi- nary things of this kind, is somethingmore to befled than to be desired.In his language,which distinguishesbetween psychic and spirituallevels accordingto ahierarchyof planes, Constantinde Barbansonconcludes thatthis "operation," although"admiredby many,"is a "sign thatthe soul at its core is still relatively unrefined,"evenif it is already"quitehighly elevated." "AndI say," writes MeisterEckhart,"thatGod is neitherbeing norreason;nor doesHe know this or that. This is why God is empty of all things and why He is all things."These early writersrefer to conceptions of man that have become foreign to us; but inrelativizing their assertions, be they institutionalor exceptional, they have the clarity[nettet]l characteristicof the whole mystical tradition. Everywherethe same reactionmakesitself understood.The greatestof mystics-John of theCrossandTheresaof Avila,for example-repeat it: the extraordinary does not characterizethe mystical experienceany morethanits conformityto an orthodoxy.It is rather characterized therelationship bythat connects each of these momentsto others, as one word connects with other words,in a symbology of meaning.The Social Language of MysticismThe mystic is drivenby each experiencetowarda moreradicalinteriority[en-defd] alsoexpressed as a "beyond"[au-deld] exceeding ones strongestmoments. The unity thatdraws the mystic "into himself," as some say, also pushes him forwardtoward as yetunforeseeablestages of his journey,for which he or otherswill constructa vocabularyinview of a languagethatbelongs to no one. One momentthe mystic will say, "WhatI haveexperiencedis nothingcomparedto whatis coming,"andthe next,"Otherwitnesses mustattest to the fragmentthat is my experience." Mystical language is a social language.Consequently, each "enlightenedone" [illumine] is broughtback to the group, bornetowardsthe future,inscribedwithina certainhistory. For the mystic, to "prepare place" afor the Otheris to preparea place for others. The exceptionalnatureof whathappensto the mystic ceases to be a privilegein orderto become the index of a particularplace thatthe mystic occupies withinhis or her group,withina history,withinthe world. The mystic is only one amongmanyothers. A similarmovement inserts the mystic within a social structureand makes him accept his death:these are two modalitiesof the limit-that is, of joining with othersand with the Other.Certainly,a "hidden" finds its effectiveness at the very momentthatit loses itself in lifethatwhich is revealed within itself to be greaterthanitself. For mystics, the difficulties,the "tests"and trials,the obstacles and conflicts have the meaningof indicatingto them20
  12. 12. theirown death,the specificity of theirown speech, and theirtruerelationshipwith whathas been given them to know. This effacement within ordinarylanguage is finally themodesty of the mystic. An immersionin the common nescience is likewise evidence ofthis modesty;this is illustrated the discreetmannerin which a fourth-century in Egyptianmonkspeaksof this modestyin theApophthegmata theDesert Fathers: "Truly,Abbot ofJoseph has found the way, because he has said: I do not know." The redirectingof the personallife to the social life is simply a returnto origins. Itis not only a gesture thatreveals the truthof the ecstasy: it allows what has precededitandmadeit possible-a socioculturalsituation-to resurface. But it discloses a meaningto this anonymityof facts. The "Thereis" or "Therewas"-the historical,linguistic, orpsychological data [donndes]of a situation-is transformed because it is now recognizedas given [donnd]. At the beginning of everything,there is a gift [un donnd]. Spiritual perception does indeed unfold within a mental, linguistic, and socialorganizationthat precedes and determines it. As has been known since Herskovits,experience is always defined culturally,even if such experience is mystical. It receivesits formfroma milieu thatstructures beforeall explicit consciousness. It obeys the law itof language. Thus a neutralelement and an orderassert themselvesjust as much as themeaning that the mystic uncovers there. "Language" refersnot only to the syntaxandvocabularyof a certaintongue-that isto say, the combination of aperturesand closures that determine the possibilities ofcomprehension-but also to the codes of recognition,the organizationof the imaginary, inthe sensory hierarchizations which smell or sight predominate,the fixed constellationof institutionsor doctrinalreferences,and so forth. Thereis a ruraland an urbanregisterof mystical experience. Some epochs are characterized exorbitanciesof the eye and byolfactoryatrophy; others,by the hypertrophy the earor sense of touch. A sociology can ofclassify mystical manifestationsand even visions in the same way. In a minoritygroup,for example, the testimonyis presentedas a persecutedtruth;the witness, as a martyr; therepresentations, as a pierced heartor an illuminatedilliterate. From this point of view, the mystic speaks only a received language, even if themystical "excess"-the wound and the opening of meaning(or what, with Derrida,onemight call the "hyperbolicmoment")-is not identifiablewith the historicalstructure onwhich its form and very possibility both depend. Thus, in the case of the shepherdessCatherine Emmerich(1774-1824),acomplete languageemergesfroma silentWestphalia,hidden away from the literati. Such a language fascinatedthe romanticpoet ClementBrentano,who made himself its scribe. Due to this alliance between the aristocratic poetand the mystic villager, the discourse of the "visionary"woman broughtthe "savage"tongueof a ruralworldto thesurfaceof a written"literature." subterranean A organizationwas broughtto light, unveilingand multiplyingthe resourcesof a peasanttraditionwithinthe very mystical experience that sprang from it. Emerging from obscurity, a wholepastoralpeople revealsitself in thepoem of gesturesandvisions throughwhich Catherinenarratesthe scenes of the life of Jesus, scenes which for her were contemporary. Thepopularimmensities of which she is the echo are indissociable from the "divinedepths"of which she speaks. In its variousforms the vast, latentstructurations languagearealways articulated ofupon the desire and the surpriseof the mystic to which they provide a geographicalsiteand a historicaldetermination.The Body of the SpiritIt is not enough to refer to the social body of language. Meaning is writtenthroughtheletterandthe symbol of thephysicalbody. Mystics receive fromtheirbodies the law, thediacritics / summer 1992 21
  13. 13. place, andthe limitof theirexperience. The"experienced" monk,Philoxenede Mabboug,once daredto say, "The sensible is the cause of the conceptual;the body is the cause ofthe soul and precedes it in the intellect." Prayeris also first and foremosta discourse of gestures. "How to pray?-It is notnecessary to use a lot of words,"replied Macarius. "It is enough to hold ones handsstretchedhigh." Arsenius,another"DesertFather," would remainstandingevery night,turning his back to the setting sun; he held his handsextended towardthe Levant "untilthe sun once again illuminatedhis face: thenhe would sit down." His physical vigilancewas the languageof desire, like a treein the night;therewas no need to breakthe silencewith words. The precedinginstancesare merely indicative. In any case, the mystic "somatizes,"interprets music of meaningwith his or her corporealrepertoire.One not only plays theones body;one is playedby it, as if thepianoor trumpet were thecomposerandtheplayeronly the instrument. In this regard,stigmata,levitation,visions, and the like reveal andadopt the obscure laws of the body, the extreme notes of a scale never completelyenumerated,never entirely domesticated,aroused by the very exigency of which it issometimes the sign and sometimes the threat. A dangerouscloseness-dangerous for its witnesses, but even more for society-often binds, at the limits of experience,the "mystical"to the "pathological."The bondsbetween madnessandtruthareenigmaticanddo notconstitutearelationof necessity. Butit is still more erroneousto posit social conformityas the criteriaof spiritualexperience.Psychological "balance"complies with social norms (however changeable) that themystic transgressesagainandagain,just as Jacobcrossedthe fordof the Yabboqonce hehad been seized on the otherbankby the nocturnalangel. From the "deeper body" and through it arose the very movement that finallycharacterized"mystical"language: that of expressing an essential in the mode of asidestep [un 6cart]. Its gestureis to pass beyond, throughthe "phenomena" always thatrisk being taken for the "Thing"itself. Actually, mystical manifestationsexpress what Nietzsche was aiming at ("I am amystic," he said, "and I do not believe in anything")when he referredto a beyondemerging within language: he wrote, "Es spricht"("It speaks");a nonsubject(strangerto all individualsubjectivity)demystifies consciousness,its clearsurfacemuddiedby thestirredwatersof the deeps. InSein undZeit (Being and Time),Heideggerreferssimilarlyto an Es gibt-which meansnot only "thereis," but"it gives" [ca donne]: thereis a givenwhich is also giving. It is this fulfilling deprivationthatSurinspeaks of when he placeshis Spiritual Canticle underthe sign of a "lost child"and "wanderer": Happy death, happysepulchre Of this lover, in Love absorbed Whosees no longer grace nor nature But the sole abyss into which he hasfallen.A disconcerting (one could say "disconcerted")itinerary,moving from side to side.Through this historical mode is insinuated and made manifest what Toukaram (aseventeenth-century Marathimystic) also sings of at the end of his Songs of the Pilgrim,in orderto give their meaningto his itinerariesover the roadsof India: I am going to say the unsayable I live my death I am because I am not.22
  14. 14. 3Mysticismand ReligionsIn 1941 Rene Daumal wrote: "I havejust successively readsome texts on bhakti,somequotationsfrom Hassidic authorsand a passage of SaintFrancisof Assisi; to these I addsome Buddhistwordsand I am struckyet again by the observationthatsomething is thesame in all of them"[Lamystiqueet les mystiquesin Ravier]. But this use of the singular"mysticism"[la mystique],as opposedto the plural"religions"-does it not dependuponthe fact that these passages are consideredby the same reader? On the one hand, thereexists no single point of observationfrom which it would be possible to contemplatemysticism independentlyof some socioculturalor religious tradition,therebyspecifying"objectively"the relationshipthat it maintainswith such traditions: there is, for anyconsiderationof mysticism, no viewpointfromSirius. Whetherit wishes to be or not,anyWesternanalysis is situatedwithin the context of a culturemarkedby Christianity. Onthe otherhand,withinWesternscience as well as Westernexperience,mysticism impliesa distancing from establishedChurchauthority. It indicates the unity of a modern layreaction before sacred institutions. These two coordinates determine the site of any ofcurrentinterpretation mysticism and religions.The Plurality of Religious StructuresEven if studiesfromAsia andAfricaalso considermysticism in the singular,they restoreits pluralitywhentheyreinterpret Westernmysticismin termsof referenceproperto them.This distancebetween heteronomousanalyses makes evident the differences thatdelin-eate entire traditions;they can be classed accordingto three types of criteria. Firstof all, the relationshipto time is decisive. It demarcatesa WesterntraditionofChristian origin based upon a certain event and thus upon the plurality of history.Antiquity, or Hindu civilization, presents a more "henological" form of mysticism,characterized thereascensiontowardstheOne,orby theporosityof thephysicalworld: byhistory is open to the immanentreality that it veils underappearances. Of the varioustheologies thatcorrespondto this firstdistinction,the formerplaces a Trinityat the heartof themystery,establishesatleast thegapof creationbetweenGodandman,andconsidersa communityto be the privilegedform of manifestation; latter,orientedby the sun of thea sole Principle,reveal within all being the diffusion of Being and destines each one toultimatenondistinction. Second, thetraditions thatreferto a Scripture themselvesfromthose that differentiategive primacyto the Voice. Here one finds a spiritualityof the Law (too seldom evoked,since the Law itself rejects the name of "mysticism")that casts, between the transcen-dence of God and the fidelity of the servant, the barrierof a "letter"to observe: forexample,Jewish mysticismof the 108thPsalm,a mysticismbornof a modesty thatdeniesman thepretensionof "becomingGod"andestablishes"sons"withinthe reverentialloveof the Father. A certainProtestant tradition maintainsthis inaccessibilityof the God whois promisedbut not given to believers who are called but not justified. To this tendencyis opposeda mysticismof theVoice, thatis to say, of a presencethatrevealsitself in humansigns and elevates all interhuman communicationby actually animatingit. Finally, experiences and doctrinesare distinguishedaccording to the prioritythatthey accord either to vision (contemplation)or to the spoken word. This first tendencyemphasizes knowledge, the radicalityof exile, the unconscious initiationsthat free onefrom consciousness, the solitude of silence, and "spiritual" communion: such are the"gnostic"mystics and the mystics of Eros. The second tendency links the call with adiacritics / summer 1992 23
  15. 15. praxis, the message with workand the civic community,the recognitionof the absolutewith an ethics, and"wisdom"with brotherly relationships:such arethe mystics of agape.Unity througha Distancingfrom ReligionsThe interestin mystics and the fascinationthey inspireimply a new kind of relationshipwith religions. In the West, the study of mysticism is currentlyless determinedby thescientific necessity of defendingthe mind againstchurchesthataretodayincreasinglyinthe minority. But because of this new situation, this study has been led to considermystical languageas a symbol-possibly the metaphor-of a hidden"Essence"thatmustbe identified philosophically,or a "meaningof life" to be elucidatedin the conceptualterms of a society that has ceased to be religious. From this point of view, mysticism is less a heresyor a liberationfromreligion thanan instrumentfor the workof unveiling,withinreligion itself, a truththatwould first beformulated in the mode of a margin inexpressible in relation to orthodox texts andinstitutions,and which would then be able to be exhumed from beliefs. The study ofmysticism thus makes a nonreligiousexegesis of religion possible. It also gives rise, inthe historical relation of the West to itself, to a reintegrationthat eradicates the pastwithout losing its meaning.Like the ancient sphinx, mysticism remains the rendezvous of an enigma. It can besituated but not classified. In spite of the differences between civilizations, someinterrelations exist that, in the West, grantspiritualprestige to East Indianor Buddhisttraditions, in theEast,diffuse the seductionsof JudaismandChristianity and throughtheirMarxistmetamorphoses.Somethingirreducible neverthelesslingers,uponwhichreasonitself depends-something whose phenomenareasonattemptsto "demystify"by displac-ing its myths, but of which it cannotdisinfecta society. Perhaps,between exoticism andthe "essential,"the relationshipswill neverbe socially clarified. And this is the challengeand the risk of the mystic-to draw them into this precise and luminous clarity [lanettezza]that Catherineof Sienna held to be the ultimatesign of the spirit. Translatedby MarsanneBrammer WORKS CITEDBehr-Sigel, E. Pridre et saintetddans 1eglise russe. Paris: Cerf, 1950.Brunner,E. Die Mystikund das Wort. Zurich, 1928.Buber, Martin. Hassidic Tales (Die Erzdhlungender Chassidim, 1940). Trans. A. Gueme. LesRecits hassidiques. Paris: Plon, 1982.Certeau,Michel de. Lafable mystique, XVIe-XVIlesi&cle.Paris: Gallimard,1982. [The Mystic Fable. Trans.Michael Smith. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992.]Eliade, Mircea. Le chamanismeet les techniquesde 1extase. Paris: Payot, 1951. 2nd ed. augm., 1967.Freud, Sigmund. Lavenir dune illusion [The Future of an Illusion]. Trans. M. Bonaparte. Paris:PUF, 1971. [Die Zukunft einer Illusion, 1927]. . Malaise dans la civilisation [Civilizationand Its Discontents]. Trans.C. Odier. Paris:PUF, 1934. [Das Unbehagenin der Kultur, 1929].Gardet,L., and G. C. Anawati. Mystiquemusulmane. Paris: Vrin, 1961.Gorceix, G. Flamb6e et agonie. Sisteron: Presence, 1977.Green, Julien. Journal, 1928-34. Paris:Plon, 1938.24
  16. 16. Kolakowski, L. Swiadomosc religigna i wiez hoscielna, 1956. Trans. A. Posner. Chr6tienssans 6glise. La connaissance religieuse et le lien confessionnelau XVIle siecle. Paris: Gallimard,1969.Leclercq, J. Lamourdes lettres et le ddsir de Dieu. Paris: Cerf, 1957.Lossky, V. ThdologienEgativeet connaissance de Dieu chez Maitre Eckhardt. Paris: Vrin, 1960.Morel, G. Le sens de 1existenceselon SaintJean de la Croix. Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1960.Nicholson, R. A. Studies in Islamic Mysticism. Cambridge:University P, 1921.Orcibal,J. Saint Jean de la Croix et les mystiquesrheno-flamands. Brussels: Descle de Brouwer, 1966.Otto,R. MystiquedOrientet mystiquedOccident. [West-Ostliche Mystik,1926]. Paris: Payot, 1951.Ravier, A. ed. La mystiqueet les mystiques. Brussels: Desclee de Brouwer, 1965.Ritter, H. Das Meer der Seele. Leiden: Brill, 1955.Thomas, E. J. The History of BuddhistThought. London: Routledge, 1951.Urs von Balthasar,Hans. Herrlichkeit: Eine theologische Asthetik, 1961. Trans. R. Givordand H. Bourboulon.La gloire et la croix. Paris: Aubier-Montaigne,1965- 68. 2 vol.diacritics / summer 1992 25